FBI, other agencies warn of increase in ransomware attacks against individuals

HOUSTON – The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas and the FBI are warning of an increase in ransomware, alerting individuals to be wary of unknown or misleading emails, texts, and phone calls that could lead to individuals installing ransomware on their devices.

With ransomware getting national attention after Colonial Pipeline fell victim to the scam, even the White House is taking measures to beef up its cybersecurity.

”The ransomware was a wake-up call for all industries,” said Leah Napoliello, BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas VP of Operations.

However, the BBB said it is something that can most definitely impact individuals.

“It is something everybody has to worry about including regular consumers,” Napoliello said.

Officials said they are seeing more and more ransomware attacks with more services and operations going online.

“Ransomware is basically a virus where the virus goes in and locks your computer or device or the network so that you cannot even access your own files or information, so it can be very dangerous,” Napoliello said.

It just takes a click or a phone call.

“You typically see it start with a phishing email or a text,” Napoliello said.

It happened to one local woman who asked to remain anonymous. The woman got an email, ironically, about her existing cybersecurity service. The email said she had been charged nearly $400 and had asked if she wanted to cancel or continue to be charged.

“It’s strange because it was the exact same headline and company that I had been using that year, so I didn’t think anything of it,” the woman said.

After asking someone else she trusted about the email, both had agreed the email seemed legitimate. She called the phone number in the email.

“During that process, they asked to cancel our services through a process using ‘Team Viewer’ and it’s basically a software that allows other people control over your computer,” she said. “I did not think that was going to be an issue because it’s not like something I haven’t used with these types of services so, again, it did not seem strange.”

However, while the perpetrators are walking her through the process on the phone and accessing her computer, she noticed something unlike what she had previously experienced.

“What ended up being strange was when the screen went black a few times throughout the process of getting me my reimbursement and them removing the services off my computer. When I noticed it started going black, I saw that they were trying to access bits and pieces of my bank account,” she said. “It would go black and then it would switch to my bank account”

She tried to shut down her computer but it was too late. The thieves she said had taken around $5,000 from her personal account, and they threatened her business account and to sell her private information, locking her computer unless she paid up.

“They wanted another $10,000,” she said.

Now, this woman said she is working with her bank to try and get the money back.

”[The attackers] are getting really professional. They’re getting really savvy,” she said. “I can’t change what happened to me, but hopefully I can help change someone else’s understanding and alertness.”The BBB said stories like hers are not uncommon.

“It is very common, unfortunately,” Napoliello said.

How to Protect Yourself

The BBB recommends that you do the following to protect yourself from ransomware:

  • Avoid clicking unknown emails, links or texts
  • Install antivirus and malware protection
  • Change your passwords and make them difficult to guess-Back up your important files-Report the incident to the FBI-Take computer or phone to a professional recovery company. The FBI said do not pay the ransom request as many attackers will just ask for more funds, raising the ransom.

The FBI recommends people use www.ic3.gov for more resources.

More info: Ransomware